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Southwest 14th Street Joins to Endure Tornado’s Trauma

An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings in Moore, Oklahoma on May 21, 2013. Photograpoher: Benjamin Krain/Getty Images
An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings in Moore, Oklahoma on May 21, 2013. Photograpoher: Benjamin Krain/Getty Images

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- As a mile-wide tornado chewed across Moore, Oklahoma, Sonnia Conway trusted her life to a bathtub at her house, squeezing in with pillows, blankets and four dogs.

She didn’t join the 30 other neighbors who rushed to Alma and Harley McLaughlin’s storm shelter down the street. The McLaughlins don’t allow pets and Conway wouldn’t have left her dogs or cats anyway, she said.

“It was a miracle,” said Conway, 47. “Trees on each side of my house were destroyed, but the house was still standing. It was like the hand of God protecting us.”

The mutual support of neighbors and friends shows how residents of one block on Southwest 14th Street took on the most powerful of three tornadoes to strike Moore since 1999. Six blocks away, homes were obliterated, and across the city, 2,800 were damaged or destroyed.

Among those sheltered at the McLaughlins' was Glenda Tannehill’s grandson, a pupil at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where students numbered among the 24 killed by the storm.

“We were lucky to get in before it hit,” said Tannehill, 53.

Mike Blazer, 45, another in the storm shelter, rushed out after the twister passed to Plaza Towers, where he and his wife found his son Joey.

“The school was leveled,” Blazer said. He said he helped rescue some students trapped there.

Neighborhood Heroes

Glenda Tannehill, 53, said the McLaughlins were heroes for opening their storm shelter. Rita McLaughlin would have none of such talk.

“We’re here for them, and we know they would do anything to help us,” she said.

William Diggs, 28, had scooped up his three sons, ages 3, 2 and 10 months, and rushed to the McLaughlin home. He couldn’t keep from peeking out the shelter door as the storm passed to the northwest, Tannehill said.

Diggs, who spent much of yesterday cleaning up his yard and helping his neighbors, said he’d rode out Hurricane Andrew in Florida. The 1992 storm that struck as a Category 5, the most powerful, caused $25 billion damage in the U.S.

“Andrew was a little bit more vicious,” Diggs said.

Eduardo Perez, 21, chose to stay in his house a few doors from the McLaughlin residence, hoping to record the storm on his iPhone. Perez said he abandoned the notion as the storm grew closer and fiercer.

“I wanted to record all of it, but got scared,” he said.

Afterward, Perez said he rode his bicycle to a neighborhood closer to the center of the storm’s path. It was a scene of crushed cars, twisted tree trunks and houses reduced to their frames, he said. He said he helped two elderly people get to hospitals.

Conway said she stayed in her bathtub after the tornado passed, while her dogs Gigi, Onyx, Yorkie and Chapel, who had whined through the storm, grew quiet.

“I didn’t want to get out of the bathtub,” she said. “I knew a lot of people had gotten hurt or killed. I felt blessed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Darrell Preston in Moore, Oklahoma at dpreston@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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